PHIL2410 Mind and Language in Chinese Thought

(First semester, 2009–2010 Academic Year)

(Monday, 10:40 am – 12:30 pm, MB 121)

Issues pertaining to the philosophy of mind and language played a crucial role in the philosophical dialectic of classical China. This course will guide students in reconstructing this role and exploring its philosophical significance by interpreting and critically evaluating selected early Chinese philosophical texts that treat mind, language, and interrelated aspects of psychology.

Topics to be discussed may include the nature and functions of the heart-mind (xīn), its relation to other organs, the nature of perception and knowledge, semantic theories, the role of language in knowledge and action, and the ontological grounds of linguistic distinctions. Texts may include the Analects, Mozi, Mencius, Daodejing, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Lushi Chunqiu. Class time will be divided approximately equally between lecture and discussion. Students will be asked to read primary source texts and participate actively in discussions. They will be encouraged to read the original sources in Chinese, but translations will be made available for those without reading knowledge of classical Chinese.


Learning Objectives and Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe selected foundational issues in classical Chinese philosophy of mind and language

  • Critically examine a range of positions on and approaches to these issues and identify their strengths and weaknesses

  • Demonstrate interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills in oral presentation and writing by discussing these issues and theories in written assignments and tutorials

  • Demonstrate appreciation of the distinctiveness of the classical Chinese approach to mind and language and the similarities and contrasts with Western views

Preliminary Syllabus

1. Language, Mind, and Dào (weeks 1–3)

2. Mohism: Knowledge, Language, and Heaven (weeks 4–6)

3. Xúnzǐ: Language, Mind, and Pragmatic Conventionalism (weeks 7–9)

4. Daoism: Mind and Action Beyond Language (weeks 10–12)

Coursework and Assessment

Students will be expected to prepare for class and participate in class discussions (25% of the grade) and to complete four writing assignments (1000–1200 words each) (75%). (A detailed course syllabus will be distributed in class.)